The Establishing Shot: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review David Fincher's version

Sunday, December 18, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

Does the world really need another pointless remake? Probably not - but it needs more films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from David Fincher.

Let’s get it out of the way early. This is not going to be a comparison between Niels Arden Oplev and David Fincher’s work, and it is difficult to discuss Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in real depth without giving anything away. But it would be dismissive not start with the material that they both base their marvellous films on - Stieg Larsson's novel is pretty spectacular tapping into our curiosity of the criminal mind, cultural perceptions, introducing us to the most unlikely anti-hero and as alluded to in the film - it bridges an old darkness running 70 years deep and the new Europe. But it also draws on Stieg Larsson world view - in his own journalism career he investigated corruption, racism, right wing extremism, Nazism and abhorred violence against woman. All themes touched on in the Millennium trilogy.

I enjoyed Niels Arden Oplev’s film and read Stieg Larsson's book after - if I’m to be honest to get a better understanding of some of the bits that film that eluded me. I’m putting it down to cultural differences and loved the film more for it. I’m pretty sure if Larsson had an American agent the format for his stories would have been altered losing their uniqueness like the last 10 minutes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Such is the popularity of Larsson’s work that they became best sellers and spawned the 3 films of the Millennium Trilogy and a popular Swedish television series Millennium (I’m unsure if the TV series are complete different production or the films remixed for TV). Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in The Millennium Trilogy and introduces us to disgraced Swedish journalist and publisher of Millennium - Mikael Blomkvist. Millennium is an independent publication renowned for it’s exposes of corruption and under handed dealings. Something corporate advertisers are not keen to be associated with leaving Millennium respected but in a precarious financial position.

David Fincher’s film starts with Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) at a low point, after Millennium has implicated a businessman in some under handed dealings, the businessman taking umbrage to this proceeds legally and after Blomkvist is unable to provide sufficient evidence is left disgraced and near penniless by the courts.

Enter a strange offer from Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer), patriarch of the Vagner dynasty. A prominent old family intricately tied into Sweden’s heritage. Vagner offers Blomkvist large sum, of much needed, money, a break from his troubles in Stockholm and more importantly confidential information regarding the businessman behind Blomkvist’s recent troubles.

In return Blomkvist is to use his investigative eye, to research and write a biography of Henrik Vagner staying on the Vagner’s island amongst the estranged family (many played by a who’s who of talented actors), at least on the surface - as in reality Blomkvist is to look in to the disappearance of Henrik’s much loved niece Harriet, forty years ago. An event that further exasperated the family’s dysfunction and is at the crux of the Vagner fortunes downward slide. Everyone is a suspect and his main clue - dried flowers send to taunt Henrik Vagner every year, as his niece would. So begins Blomkvist investigation that leads him on a dark an unexpected journey. Throw all of this into a pot and out of it The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo rises.

Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a dark deep tale that weaves the effects of the second World War - usually glossed over or forgotten in modern fiction, family betrayal, misogyny, corruption in big business, an intimate exploration of usually unseen Nordic life, violence, social isolation, the failure of social care and one of David Fincher’s favourite subjects serial killers.

Even with the possibility of another two films coming based on the remaining Millennium trilogy stories; The Girl who played with Fire and The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I’m categorising The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as the third in a Fincher Serial Killer Trilogy alongside Se7en and (even though I really didn’t enjoy it as much as the other two) Zodiac.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is perfect material for David Fincher; a darkly complex story with engaging characters set in a world different from ours. Fincher has the uncanny knack for making his films incredibly immersive by giving dramatic structure and the ambience of his films just as much importance as the narrative. He applies the same care and attention to Dragon Tattoo as he did with The Social Network, possibly more as there are more moving bits, extreme behaviour and personalities that have to be portrayed credibly.

As with his other films he brings a particular style or motif to the visuals. Darks, lights and yellows seem to play a big part in creating the atmosphere as well as, to raise the contrast between the old and the new, the good and the bad as well as a bleached look for flashbacks.

The similarities between a Bond film and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo don’t end with leading man Daniel Craig. The film starts with a outstanding title sequence that seems a little out of place but sets the tone for the dark and cold Dragon Tattoo as well as puts Trent Reznor’s fingerprint all over the film. His soundtrack for The Social Network was an unexpected pleasure but Dragon Tattoo is exactly the kind of material that Reznor excels at. His tension building sounds fade in and out lifting the action of the screen.

But all of this would not work without the characters being believable within the Dragon world and as with The Social Network this was possibly the highlight of the film for me as David Fincher draws class performances that are poignant but subtle making the characters and their interactions all the more effective. Particularly Daniel Craig and of course Rooney Mara as his research assistant Lisbeth Salander whose performance steals the show from experienced heavyweights and delivers both toughness and vulnerability in her transformation to the anti social and tech savvy Lisbeth Salander.

Fincher inspires great performances from the entire cast, so much so that although the film is in English it feels, sounds and looks Swedish and if you didn’t know better one would assume they were Swedish. What a pleasure seeing Christopher Plummer back on screen in a role he can get his teeth into.

Highlights of the film for me when after two separate narratives, Blomkvist and Salander’s characters meet. Cinema magic. Also the play between Blomkvist and the villain of the piece are marvellous to watch. Not only delivering what must surely be one of the most memorable scenes in recent cinema as well as cementing Daniel Craig’s position as the underdog we love to see in difficult positions.

With a lengthy run time and the bulk of the film being dialogue driven, Fincher uses this to his advantage creating another engaging and immersive experience punctuated with chilling psychological and physical violence that unravels a mystery with depth and richness as he transports us to the cold starkness of a inherent Nordic mystery.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo release date: 26 December, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander (Mara), a young computer hacker.

Director: David Fincher
Writers: Steven Zaillian (screenplay), Stieg Larsson (novel)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara and Stellan Skarsgård

The Establishing Shot: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review